Crozet Historic District Likely

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This is a follow up story to the Gazette’s February 2012 article, which includes a map of the proposed district.

Pleasant Green, about a half mile west of the Crozet depot, is believed to be the oldest house in Crozet. Its original section dates to 1814. It is the ancestral seat of the Wayland family, who once owned 1200 acres from Crozet Avenue to Mint Springs and became prominent orchardists. Claudius Crozet stayed in the house and Benjamin Ficklin, credited with actually setting up the Pony Express, was born at Pleasant Green in 1827. (Photo courtesy of Phil James Historical Images)

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources’s State Review Board is very likely to approve the application for an historic district in Crozet at its Sept. 20 meeting in Petersburg, VDHR official Marc Wagner told the small crowd who attended an informational meeting on the proposed district at the Albemarle County office building in Charlottesville August 10.

“The nomination does meet our standards and it will go to the board,” Wagner said. “It’s not a local designation, but an honorary designation according to national standards.

“There is a very strong likelihood Crozet will be approved,” Wagner predicted. “This nomination is well-written and it won’t be stopped on a technicality.”

Wagner said the Commonwealth now has nearly 600 officially recognized historic districts. Nearby, districts are established for Batesville, Covesville and Afton/Greenwood. Albemarle already has the state’s largest district, which extends from Monticello to Scottsville.

The board will review the nominations for 15 districts at its meeting. If Crozet is approved, it will be added to the state’s historic register that very day. Approval by federal officials, mainly pro forma once a state has approved a district, will follow within two months, he said. “We try to get everything perfect before it’s sent to the National Park Service.”

Wagner said the designation provides recognition of buildings worthy of preservation, boosts educational and tourism opportunities, and brings the area to the attention of federal and state officials who must approve road and utility lines and federally funded housing projects. It has happened that roads and power lines have been moved to avoid impact on historic districts, he said. “The district is what you make of it with signs, tours, plaques and books,” he said.

Properties within the district will be governed by Albemarle County policies and ordinances. “There is no architectural review board for this,” Wagner explained. “It’s a listing to give the area higher visibility. We don’t come back and look at what you are doing with your property. You can demolish it if you want.”

Property owners in the district who want to take advantage of the state and federal tax credits available to those who renovate older buildings will work directly with the VDHR to establish the amount of the credit they can claim, Wagner said. Renovations of residences are eligible for a state credit of 25 percent of their expenses, and renovations of commercial buildings will qualify for an additional federal credit that brings their total tax credit to 45 percent of costs. Credits are limited to what the VDHR considers “substantial” renovations, he said, meaning they cost more than $5,000. “We have lots of tax credits going to the Charlottesville area,” he said.

Gardner Hallock of Arcadia Preservation, the company that prepared the application documents and the required architectural inventory of the buildings in the proposed district, presented a slide show of Crozet history and its significant buildings. In the 1980s, the VDHR had recommended that Crozet apply to have an historic district, he noted.

“It’s taken a long time to do this, but some applications have taken 10 years,” he said.

Crozet’s eligibility for review would have lapsed at the end of this year because regulations allow no more than five years between the descriptions of the buildings in the district and the submission of an official application. Crozet’s inventory, the most laborious part of the process, was completed in 2007. The Crozet Community Association and the Downtown Crozet Association combined last spring to lead a $4,500 fundraising effort to complete the application. About $2,800 has been raised so far. The designation adds a financial incentive to property owners to renovate and could help rejuvenate older structures in downtown Crozet.

Hallock described Crozet as “an urban village” that developed around its train depot and that its period of historical and architectural significance will be set at 1815 to 1955. Crozet was first settled in 1737. Pleasant Green, the home of the Wayland family and the farm that first established the potential of local orchards, is the town’s oldest building, dating to 1814.

Hallock traced the evolution of buildings and architectural styles in Crozet linked to the growth of the apple and peach orchards. In 1919 a Richmond newspaper asserted that western Albemarle had established itself as “the finest fruit producing area in the world” and Crozet was dubbed the Peach Capital of Virginia.

The district will contain 169 properties and 258 structures. “Remarkably, only 34 of those are non-conforming,” Hallock said. “Crozet’s historic district remains intact. Much of the town’s original character is intact. This is a cohesive and vibrant historic community.” The only significant loss, he noted, was the 1905 Bank of Crozet, which was destroyed in 1981 when the present Bank of America building was constructed.

Wagner credited the application with containing “a fascinating write-up of the apple industry.”

The district would be reviewed every 20 years so that newer houses can be considered. “Bungalows used to be thought of as junk,” Wagner said. “Now they are considered important.”

Wagner encouraged those who want to support the district, or oppose it, to send letters to VDHR director Kathleen Kilpatrick at 2801 Kensington Avenue, Richmond VA, 23221.